Meet some of the Gen Z entrepreneurs behind the next AI innovation wave

Illustration of a robot talking to a person.

This article was first published by Digiday sibling WorkLife

This article is part of WorkLife’s special edition, which examines how the jobs and careers of Generation Z professionals will be reshaped and evolve in the AI-informed era. More from the series →

Gen Zers aren’t just passively watching the rise of generative artificial intelligence, they’re taking an active role in shaping it. And these Gen Z AI entrepreneurs are forming communities as they innovate alongside each other.

In San Francisco many young entrepreneurs are co-living as they design and create their AI startups. For some of them, that’s meant quitting their jobs at big tech companies like Google and Meta, or even dropping out of college, to join the wave of next-generation AI startups. Thanks to a 12-week residency AI accelerator program funded by tech entrepreneur Dave Fontenot, called Hacker Fellowship Zero, AI entrepreneurs (mostly Gen Z age) can live in a converted mansion in Alamo Square, and receive a $250,000 investment in exchange for 2.5% in ownership of each new startup created under its roof. They also get all rent, bills, food, amenities and laundry covered.

Elsewhere, in New York City, there are more tech houses, where groups of Gen Zers live together while they build a variety of AI-powered products. These range from tools that help high school students get into their top colleges to ones that help decipher what your dream from the night before meant. 

We talked to several Gen Z founders who are building AI-driven startups to learn more about how they are pushing to ensure their generation is ahead in the AI era.

Swapping stability for innovation

Iddris Sandu, 26-year-old founder and CEO of Spatial Labs, an immersive technology company, has worked at many of the big tech companies – Twitter, Instagram, Snap, Meta, and Google, as either a contractor or interning for a few months at a time. He’s also worked at Yeezy – Kanye West’s sneaker brand – for two years leading design and tech, consulting with top musical artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna. 

But his plan was always to create something himself. That’s why, in December 2019, he created Spatial Labs, which creates technology that uses both AI and augmented reality to create smart consumer products. For example, the company offers blockchain-authenticated footwear and wearable clothing that grants owners access to unique AR online environments.

“Very early on I saw a corporate structure and there were things I liked and loved about it, but also things I felt wouldn’t really work for our generation,” said Sandu, who is originally from Compton, California. “We want to have a lot of autonomy and flexibility as it pertains to creativity.”

That’s the mindset he applies to his own 35-person staff based in Silicon Valley.

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